Monday, January 17, 2011

The Interruptions are Killing Me

I'm going nearly crazy at work. The multi-tasking is at an all time high, the number of things I'm involved in is growing and I can't take it anymore. So I've broken down some common situations and let's see if this helps.

The Lazy Person who Cries Wolf
“I need urgent help tomorrow to get this project which I delayed working on in a timely fashion. And it’s your fault if I don’t get what I need. Did I mention my boss just dropped this in my lap and I didn't see it coming?”

Possible Solution: "Gee Tonto, when did you start this project? I have had your problem for less than 10 minutes. Can you allow me at least 10 days to get back to you? After all you've sat on this project for 10 months and didn't have the courtesy to give me an early warning about it."

The Socializing Drifter
This person drifts by your office with no specified purpose at least 4 times a day. Often you'll see them chatting up anyone who has no choice but to listen to them (exec admins and coffee shop baristas are the first stop).

Possible Solution: Say to the drifter, "Hi Drifty. I have 5 minutes, if there’s something you want to discuss please come in and sit down.” Insist on the person sitting down. Put away all papers, stop typing and focus on the person. Resist the urge to speak for the first 4 minutes. At minute 5, “Thank you Drifty. I understand that this is your progress on this assignment. When should I expect the final version to review? Great. Let’s put time on my calendar for ___ (and put it on the calendar).”

The Hallway Help Request with Air Kiss
On the way to lunch a colleague asks for help generally phrased as a "It's really important we get on this particular issue and I was hoping you could help sooo can you help because you promised you would? Ok great, well gotta go run to a staff meeting, it's crazy around here! kiss kiss bye."

Possible Solution: “Cher,I understand that you are looking for help with your issue with IT. If you’re really serious about this, I suggest you schedule a time with me to go through this. We're all busy people and I can only make time for it if you're serious about getting involved and finding a result."

The Hot Air Balloon of Confusion
“My boss just said that he needs you to pull together data for an executive presentation and he said you’d know what he means by this.” (No due date, format or any specific are given.)

“Let me give you a ½ hour of issues and background without context or summary and then beg you to help me resolve this problem. By the way I don't know how to resolve my problem."

Possible Solution: "Balloon, I need you to calm down and think through this issue. Send me via email a summary of the problem and 5 key data points I need to know about this problem. Then get a meeting on my calendar for 30 minutes and we'll figure something out."

The Person who Desires an End to World Hunger from an Ivory Tower
Injects complaints into every conversation; a littany of what the company isn’t good at, who doesn’t do their job properly, how “this company will never do innovation” or “how our processes are broken.” or “why did we make these decisions” Since there’s rarely any organizational emphasis on fixing these problems, the conversation, aside from not being productive, just produces emotional stress and information overload of “problems to fix” for me.

As a corollary, this person also tends to be the kind who spends their time in ivory tower strategy deckware; which means that they are smart enough to come up with solutions to fix problems, but instead they focus on the nuances of convincing executives of their brilliance in market sizing.

Possible Solution: "Charity, if you want to solve world hunger, I suggest you give $10 to the UNFP. Because your powerpoint isn't something poor people can eat and it has a shelf life of less than 3 months. If you do want to make a difference, let's talk about what it is you think we need to change that's germane to the problem we need to fix in the next 3 months."


Capt. BS said...

This is quite a list. I have to begin by giving a shout-out to the name "Hot Air Balloon of Confusion," which would also be an awesome ride at a state fair.

I would also like to add one that I call "The Well-intentioned Victor Charlie." In this scenario, you're just cruising along: getting things done, managing your workload, or (as the case may be) enjoying your vacation. Meanwhile, outside of your purview, something utterly disastrous has happened, and it requires your attention. But instead of promptly notifying you of the problem, the people involved go to great lengths to justify keeping you in the dark, citing such readily-agreeable excuses as "Oh, I think Bill's working on something really important and time-critical, we shouldn't bother him right now" or "Bill's on vacation, we should leave him alone." And yet, in their very next breath, these same people start to plan how you will extract them (and the organization) from certain doom: "We need to schedule a meeting with the customer in which Bill will give a presentation that will allay all fears."

Not only will they do this without consulting you or your calendar, they will also assume that you are able to drop everything and resolve the entire situation with a simple snap of your fingers: "We should schedule the meeting for tomorrow afternoon because it only takes Bill 45 minutes to make an awesome PowerPoint... Yeah, he can take care of it before lunch, no problem!"

And indeed, tomorrow morning (as soon as you set foot in the office, if you're lucky; at lunch if you're not) is when you are ambushed and find yourself impaled on a bamboo skewer: "Hey Bill, this horrible thing happened yesterday, and we told the customer that you'd give a presentation this afternoon outlining the new plan going forward. I imagine it shouldn't be a problem for you."

With that, you're left with the decision of whether to disappoint your customer, your team, or both.

The solution, if you have the balls/organizational clout: "You know, Dave, if you would have notified me of this yesterday, I would have had time to prepare and deliver the presentation. But not only do I not have the time to come up with an adequate action plan for the customer, I'm already booked for the time you've scheduled. Since you and Barbara are much more familiar with the situation than I am, why don't you do the presentation? After all, I'm a strong believer in your PowerPoint and presentation skills. But if you're uncomfortable doing this on such short notice, why don't you reschedule the meeting for next week? I'm sure the customer will understand your reason for doing so."

Lilac - Like The Flower said...

LOVE IT. Love all of them, including the captains.

There's another that I deal with every day:

The Social Climber

Person who will infuse themselves into conversations simply to get face time with whatever executive might be present. So, if you're trying to resolve something - or idly walking down the hall talking about fencing with your exec, they'll barge in and make it a 30 minute conversation about their latest complaint, or triumph.

You're sitting there, wishing you could extract yourself, but there is an executive there - and at some visceral level, that's ceding the floor to the Real Housewife in your life.

I think the right solution is to say, Exec, RH - this sounds interesting, but I have to go and handle "XYZ clearly critical real problem" - catch you later?

Your confidence in leaving the exec might be more telling than RH's motive to suck up.